Welcome to Vietnam!
In this totally separate tour, we visited Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hue, Halong Bay, and Hanoi. We had two domestic flights and several long bus rides. So the title has a double meaning, get it? We flew through Vietnam literally on our two flights and figuratively with 5 stops in 10 days. It’s funny so laugh I’ve been alone for like 5 weeks without my biggest fan/sister (shoutout to Talia for laughing at my jokes I miss you).
I was planning on doing two posts for this country, but it ended up being much less full than Thailand was, so I think it all fits in one.
I’m not really feeling Vietnam, I mostly just miss Thailand at this point. It’s definitely cool to see somewhere different – and Vietnam is very different from Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia (which all blend together in my mind) – but it’s not somewhere I can see myself rushing to come back to.
The rainy season is just starting here, so it’s been in the high 80s while we’ve been here. It is super duper humid though, maybe in the 80% range whereas in Thailand it seemed to hover around 60% humidity.
Our group of 18 split today, with 11 of us going on to Vietnam. We got to the hotel in the afternoon and I was a little too spooked by the nutso traffic in Ho Chi Minh City to do more than get dinner down the street.
HCMC is full of motocycles, none of which follow any sort of traffic rules. There are some lights and signs (that they ignore for the most part) but more common are unmarked 4 way intersections. To cross the street, you just start walking slowly and they all go around you. It’s super terrifying especially at first.
The new tour started this afternoon, so in the morning I did some exploring by myself. I decided on the art museum, because it wasn’t very far and I didn’t feel like doing anything war related.
I walked to the museum, about .7 miles I think. It’s not as hot in Vietnam as it was in the other Southeast Asia countries, so it wasn’t a bad walk. I don’t think I could have walked half a mile in the heat of Luang Prabang. Luckily, by the time I got to the museum I had gotten pretty used to the traffic and was feeling ok.
I stopped at the Ben Thanh market for a while on the way back to the hotel, then the tour met at 2:30 for a driving tour of the city. The tour was mostly a total waste of time and I wished I had done something useful with my only afternoon in the city. We did go to a cathedral though, which delighted my inner cathedraljunkie. Temples are nice, but not the same.
This tour group is a ridiculous 38 people plus our new guide, Khanh. I’m already missing our close little group of 18. Everything just takes longer with 38 people.
Back on a plane today. The Vietnam tour covers a super cool amount of Vietnam, but there is a lot of travel. We flew to Da Nang airport then drove to Hoi An.
We took the bus to the old city area of Hoi An and Khanh led us on on a walking tour. On the tour, we stopped in a Chinese temple, an ancient house, and a Japanese Covered Bridge. We then had an hour on our own before we met back up for dinner. I walked around, but it’s all shopping and honestly I’ve been shopped out since Thailand so I didn’t buy anything. I did get to see a lovely sunset over the river though.
This morning 22 of us went on a waste of time boat tour down the Thu Bohn River. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do around the hotel either so I wasn’t missing anything. After the boat tour, we had lunch at an organic farm (including making our own Vietnamese pancakes).
After cooling off at the hotel for a while, I just didn’t really want to do anything. I walked around the area near our hotel for a good while then skipped dinner and relaxed.
I’m still not entirely clear why we stopped in Hoi An. One of my fellow tour members suggested it could be because Hoi An is known for its tailoring and it could have been a shipping stop. I would have been fine without it though.
We drove from Hoi An to Hue this morning, with far too many stops and too much talking. We stopped for three photo ops of the beach, then at a marble gallery, then for a bathroom break, then finally for lunch across from our hotel.
After lunch and check in, we went to the Imperial Citadel (ruins). It’s amazing how different Vietnamese architecture is from Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia despite how close they are. Vietnam was very obviously highly influenced by China (don’t tell Vietnam that though, they hate China). All the buildings in the Citadel were very short with a lot of red and dragons.
Vietnam’s sights also are pretty new, despite them being mostly ruins. The whole country was so war torn that most things were destroyed or ignored for a long time.
This morning about half of us took the optional boat ride on the Perfume River and lunch. We coasted down the river on a dragon boat for over an hour (giving us plenty of time to shop their on boat store). We stopped at Thien Mu Pagoda and got to see monks doing services for Buddhas Birthday then went to Tu Duc’s tomb, which is more of a park than a tomb. I am so tired of listening to our guide so I explored the tombs on my own and I must say I really enjoyed it. Definitely a worthwhile see.
The boat dropped us off at our bus upstream a ways from our hotel and we went to a Nunnery for lunch. In Vietnam they practice Chinese Buddhism, so the nuns and monks are vegetarians.
We didn’t get back to the hotel until 2:30, after a quick stop at Khaosan Dinh’s tomb. And I, as an adult who makes her own decisions, didn’t leave the hotel again for the rest of the night except for a quick dinner two doors down.
Alright, I give up, I’m tired of the tour. I’m tired of the amount of time it takes for 40 people to get off the bus every time we stop for yet another beach view or shopping opportunity. I’m tired of the way Khanh won’t leave us in peace and talks on the microphone 100% of the time we’re on the bus (which is a lot guys). And I’m definitely tired of 2 night stay hotels and flights. I just want to go to Bali and sit around for two weeks.
Today we flew from Hue to Hanoi then drove 4-5 hours to Ha Long Bay (you bet your butt Khanh talked on the WAY TOO LOUD microphone the entire bus ride there). This was a full day of travel with really nothing fun happening. We got to the hotel at 4:30 and I went to the hotel gym before our group dinner at 7:30.
Wow we had a close one today and nearly didn’t get to go on our boat ride from Halong Bay. When we arrived at the bay, it had just started storming and the marina shut down all the boats trying to leave. We sat in the bus for probably 45 minutes before they cleared us to leave.
It was misty and somewhat rainy out on the boat, but well worth the wait. The rocks were gorgeous and this was definitely a highlight of the trip.
After a stop at a cave and lunch we headed back to the marina and got back on the bus for the long drive back to Hanoi. Thankfully, Khanh left us alone for the first hour and I was feeling much more charitable toward him when we finally got to Hanoi at dinner time.
We had a big day in Hanoi today! In the morning, we went to the Museum of Enthology and were let loose – thank goodness cause it’s so tiring being in a group all the time – I’m really going to need my relaxation in Bali next week. The museum was fun enough with a nice mix of indoor and outdooor things, but we spent way too much time there.
The bus then took us to the old quarter of the city where Khanh showed us around then gave us free reign (again! What a day!) for a few hours. I finished the lap around the little lake then visited the nearby cathedral (duh). I also talked to 4 different groups of university students either practicing their English or doing surveys for school projects.
At 5, the whole group got back together to see a water puppet show, a specialty of Hanoi. I thought the show was delightful, though it seemed to get mixed reviews from our group.
I had Italian food for dinner then walked back to the hotel (only about a mile). My stomach has not been happy with Vietnamese food so I figured Italian was something it would recognize easily enough (I was correct I felt fine after).
Today was the last day of this crazy 27 day tour. It still blows my mind how completely different the Vietnam tour was from the Thailand, Laos, Cambodia tour. Vietnam itself is such a different place it shouldn’t really be lumped with the other three, which are all very similar. The tour itself was also paced very differently in Vietnam with 38 people and a new tour guide.
About half of us went on the last optional tour this morning, to the Thay pagoda and a village outside the city.
The pagoda had a nice layout, just a little reminiscent of a castle, but overall was pretty plain like the other temples and pagodas in Vietnam.
The village we visited, So Village, makes glass noodles. They weren’t actively making them, but Khanh showed us the process and we got to see them laid out to dry all over the place. We then visited to women in their 80s who have their teeth dyed black. It’s a tradition that has mostly died out but I think actually looks pretty cool.
Lunch was included with the tour (Pizza! Thank’s to Gate1 from Tacie’s stomach!) then we headed home. After we got back to the hotel I decided not to do anything else so I just went to the gym and laid around until dinner.
Our farewell dinner was Vietnamese food (sorry stomach) but I ate pretty light so felt ok after. All 39 of us were crammed into one upstairs room of the restaurant and it got super loud, but we still had a good time. We all said our goodbyes once we got back to the hotel.
I really felt like I bonded with the 10 others who were on the whole 27 day tour, and with the 7 who left after Cambodia, but only a few from the Vietnam portion. 38 was really just too many to get to know anyone, especially since 11 of us already knew each other pretty well at that point. I LOVED the group of 18, but 40 is too many and I think if I take tours in the future I’ll look into smaller groups.